Mariah Carey is probably going to annoy a few people with her new album, "E=MC2," which is out tomorrow. Ex-husband Tommy Mottola, Janet Jackson, and diehard Beatles fans will probably be crossing the best-selling female artist of all time off their Christmas card lists.
For everyone who thought 2005's "The Emancipation of Mimi," Carey's uneven "comeback" album after "Glitter," was the bee's knees, they'll love what amounts to its sequel. (I'm no Einstein, but the title could work with that theory.)
Record mogul Mottola is the clear, though never named, villain of one song. Miss Jackson has to listen to her boo, producer Jermaine Dupri, succeed more readily with her rival's album than her own recent release. And given its designer snap and bounce, "E=MC2" will no doubt ascend the charts at light speed, shooting off singles like meteors. When that happens the New York native will break the Beatles' record for the most No. 1 songs ever on the Billboard singles chart. (The Fab Four have 20; Carey is at 18.)
As sequels go, "E=MC2" is better than most, boasting a higher, and more consistent, quotient of slinky, dance-floor charm and stronger ballads than "Mimi." It retains the basic outline of the original: party, love, hurt, pray. Some familiar characters like Dupri return for continuity's sake and fresh cast members include top-shelf collaborators like Scott Storch and Nate "Danjahandz" Hills.
In the party category, we get "I'm That Chick" and "Migrate." The former, the album's best track, takes some of the melody and the feathery vocal approach of Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall." "Migrate," a frivolous, funky, self-referential jam, charts the flight patterns of your modern, fabulously talented urban diva - from the car to the club to the bar to the VIP lounge to the after-party to the hotel - with computer-processed vocals from the unshakable T-Pain.
Carey opens her heart and her boudoir in different ways. The limp "Touch My Body," the album's first single and current hit, simultaneously offers sensual delights and threatens bodily harm if evidence of the "secret rendezvous" makes its way onto YouTube. But on a feverish "Cruise Control," Carey is driven to distraction by a gruff Damien Marley, her own playful stab at Jamaican patois.
The singer gets her cry on with the connect-the-dots break-up track "I Stay in Love," but she cuts closer to the bone with "Side Effects," another look at her fractious marriage to Mottola. Although the union ended in 1998, Carey is still suffering, including dreams of the "violent times" and "sleeping with the enemy." Interestingly, her vocal approach here is almost emo, as she hits her rock-solid middle register and refuses to be held captive by the demons of her past. (Except, of course, she's still singing about them.)
She concludes as she did on "Mimi" with an inspirational number. In this case, it's "I Wish You Well," a rousing piano waltz that extends forgiveness to those who have wronged her in the past and is pretty much interchangeable with its predecessors.
Throughout the 14 tracks Carey generally flattens whatever melodies peek out with her signature agitated little vocal fillips. This is terrific for fluttering, hand-gesture accompaniment but keeps the tunes from being truly infectious.
"E=MC2" feels like the subtly prettier identical twin of "Emancipation of Mimi," as if for Carey freedom's just another word for doing the same thing again.